26 arrested in France and Belgium in connection with Essex lorry deaths
27 May 2020, 13:52 | Updated: 27 May 2020, 15:09
Belgian and French authorities have arrested a combined total of 26 people in connection with the Essex Lorry deaths.
39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in the back of the refrigerated truck unit at an industrial park in Grays, Essex, in October last year.
Two 15-year-old boys were among the victims.
The arrests were made during early-morning raids on Wednesday after a joint international probe by Eurojust and Europol.
The suspects are allegedly part of an organised major migrant smuggling group thought to have transported “up to several dozen people every day for several months”, Eurojust, the European Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, said in a statement.
Sixteen search warrants were carried out in houses in Brussels, with 13 arrested pending appearance before a judge, while 13 were arrested in the Paris region.
Five migrants were found during the Belgium raid. Eurojust said: “These coordinated arrests are a strong signal to migrant smuggling groups that judiciary and law enforcement communities in the EU are joining forces to detect, investigate and prosecute this kind of serious organised crime.
“The penalties for these acts range from one to 15 years in prison and a fine of EUR 1 000 to EUR 150 000 per identified victims.”
The driver of the lorry, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, from Northern Ireland, has already pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter at the Old Bailey.
At the end of April another suspect, Ronan Hughes, from Northern Ireland, whose extradition is being sought by Essex Police over the lorry deaths, was refused bail at Dublin's High Court after being deemed a flight risk.
Lawyers for Hughes, opposing extradition, have questioned whether the alleged offences took place in the UK.
The bodies of the 39 people were found in a lorry trailer in Grays last October after it arrived by ferry at Purfleet from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.